What’s the fuss about the North East New Territories Development Plan?

photo by Rebeka Tam

The North East New Territories Development Plan is a controversial proposal put forth by the government to demolish a series of villages in Kwu Tung North and Fanling North to make way for new development areas (NDAs). This plan, they claim, will provide much needed housing for HK’s growing population.

We’ve noticed that the debate in the English press (e.g., the South China Morning Post) has a tendency to simplify the conflict to “unhappy villagers vs. development of new towns”, but the issue is a little more complex than this. As a result, we’ve pulled together and translated material from many of the sources so our English-speaking friends can have a more comprehensive picture as to why there have been so many objections to this plan:

1. Is There Even a Need for a Plan of this Scale?

Claims of population growth are exaggerated
The government report claims that the need for housing comes from the expected population growth of 1.4 million people in the upcoming 30 years. [1] Given that HK’s birth rates are in decline, and that the population census has a track record of overestimating its numbers[2], the actual need for housing may be less than projected.

The proportion of public housing in the overall plan is miniscule
Despite the government’s insistence that the development plan is for public housing, the proportion of public housing has been purposefully kept down to a ratio of 60% private housing, 40% subsidised/public housing. [3]

This means in terms of actual land-area use, only 36 hectares (6% of the overall area) will be used for public or subsidised housing.[4]

2. At what cost?

Displaced Villagers
Over 8,400 people will be displaced in the two areas, Fanling North and Kwu Tong North.[5] Most of these are non-indigenous villagers with no land rights. These farmers will lose their livelihoods along with the farmland.

Displaced elderly people
Over a thousand people in Shek Chai Leng Elderly village will be have to be moved in two stages but a new place will only be rebuilt in 2023. In 2018 during the Stage I of demolishing the elderly will have to suffer much noise pollution and other interferences. Outside the elderly village, there are also thousands of elderly people in other villages that are not taken care of in this plan.[6]

A quarter of HK’s farmland destroyed
Local farms also serve the purpose of education and allowing locals to relate to nature. Furthermore, Hong Kong’s lack of self-sufficiency for providing it’s only fresh vegetables is a security risk (currently only 1.9% of our veg comes from local farmers). If Hong Kong is to be a sustainable city it needs to have a vision of how to integrate farmland into its development planning.[7]

3. Who really stands to gain from this?

SCMP graphic from the article "New World, Henderson Land to be major winners"
SCMP graphic from the article “New World, Henderson Land to be major winners”

Real Estate Hegemony
The four major property developers (Henderson Land, New World, Sun Hung Kai, Cheung Kong) have bought up, at a low price, much of the private farmland that is due to be developed in the NE New Territories Development Plan. Of the 60% private housing that will be built, most are designated as low-density luxury apartments, which can be sold at a premium. Dozens of additional hectares will also be built into shopping malls and retail outlets, which only the developers will benefit from.[8]

Government officials with a conflict of interest
Development Minister Paul Chan, was discovered in July 2013 to have family members who owned 18,000 square feet of farmland in Kwu Tong North. They stood to gain around over $12.4 million under this development plan. [9]

The chairperson of the Finance Committee, Ng Leung Sing, is a non-executive director of the telecoms firm SmartTone — a subsidiary of Sun Hung Kai Properties, which stands to gain from the development. His behavior as a chairperson during the Finance Committee clearly revealed his pro-establishment biases (see below). [10] Other councilors with a conflict of interest within the Finance Committee include James Tien, who has ties to New World Development Company Limited; Lau Wong Fat and Abraham Razack.[11]

4. What alternatives are there?

“Double South “Plan – Using the Golf course and Brownlands
Some NGOs and environmental groups have proposed an alternative “Double South” Plan, which would involve developing part of the 170 hectare HK Golf Club in Kwu Tung South and 200 hectares of brownlands (storage areas and carparks) in Yuen Long South. This alternative plan would result in no villager displacement, and would make good use of brownlands that are currently abandoned instead of active agricultural soil. It would also cut the project cost by a third, of up to $30 billion. [12]

Using existing government land
In June 2012 the Development Bureau announced that it had 4,000 hectares of unused government land, of which 580 hectares has been zoned for high density residential development. This would supersede the 90 hectares of residential area that the NE New Territories Development Plan would be able to provide. [13]

5. Miscarriage of Democratic Procedure

Protestors write 500,000 times the words "Against" to represent the number of ignored dissenting signatures received in the public consultation stage. Photo by Hin-yan Wong / Hofan Chau
Protestors write 500,000 times the words “Against” to represent the number of ignored dissenting signatures received in the public consultation stage. Photo by Hin-yan Wong / Hofan Chau

Disregard of public consultation
Over two public consultations, the Town Planning Board has received a total of 50,000 letters of opposition to the NE New Territories Development Plan, and only 7 letters of support. However, the public voices of dissent have not been taken into account in government deliberations. [14]

Inability of Legco to Represent Public Interest
Because only half of HK’s legislative council is directly elected from geographical constituencies [15], when it comes to issues where it’s establishment vs. popular support, the pan-democrats simply do not have enough votes to sway the motion. As a result, they often resort to filibuster tactics as their only recourse to attempt to be heard.

Even though town planners have yet to vet the NE New Territories Development Plan, the government had already put in a funding request for HK $340 million for initial engineering works. [16] The Legislative Council’s Finance Committee discussed the application for seven sessions, to mounting public disapproval, until the evening of 27 June, 2014, when the funding was approved. That evening, five thousand protesters congregated outside the Central Government Offices. [17]
The circumstances under which it was approved was highly controversial, as Ng Leung Sing rushed a vote while the pan-democrats were away from their seats standing in protest. The pan-democrats say they will seek legal discourse to contest the vote.[18]

Because the government is currently dominated by members who represent special interest groups, there is much frustration within the local population. This is part of what is fueling calls for universal suffrage.

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Compiled by : Janice Im & Hofan Chau

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This is a video showing images from the sixth gathering outside Legco (June 13th). It was controversial because at one point it looked like the motion was going to pass, and the protestors got a metal barrier and broke a doorway on Legco. 30 people were arrested. Those few seconds of the protestors’s action was looped over and over on television. However, this video is perhaps a more balanced set of images to the gathering I experienced that day.

On some level, this movement has seen an escalation of the types of civic disobedience both within the council chamber, and outside the council chamber. When I have time I will write up a bit more about this, because I think how this protest fits in the wider context of HK’s protest movement is worth commenting on. But for now, here’s us in standing meditation protesting….

守護東北默站@@銅鑼灣 - photo by 輔仁媒體
守護東北默站@@銅鑼灣 – photo by 輔仁媒體

Sources:
[1] Government Press Release
[2] What Will Happen to the New Territories? (HK Magazine)

note: Although now a bit dated, this is one of the few articles in English that goes into quite a bit of depth on this issue. It’s a great primer. The other source worth checking out is a video by RTHK (The Pulse) Broadcast in 2012, it is now a year old but it’s a great entry point to getting an overview of the issue.

[3] Government Already Knew Who Landowners Were, Accommodates Conflicts of Interest” 政府早知業權誰屬 配合規劃設門檻 東北「港人包」看清利益分佈 (Apple Daily)
[4] ibid.
[5] The Three Areas of North East NT: Special Edition on Objections to the proposal (inmedia)

note: The figures as to how many people will be affected seems to differ from source to source; there are claims that it will affect a 1,000 households or up to 20,000 villagers. In the end we settled for this source as it gives numbers that are broken down into the three affected village areas (Fanling North over 3,900; Kwu Tong North over 4,500; Ta Kwu Leng/Ping Che area over 1,500). However, since Ta Kwu Leng/Ping Che has been taken out of the plan, we arrived at the number of over 8,400 people affected.

[6] “10 reasons for asking the government to withdraw the NE New Territories Development Plan” 要求政府立即撤回新界東北發展計劃的十個理由 (inmedia)
[7] Kaikai Cho from Mapopo Community Farm (personal conversation)
[8] “To protect the NE is not to be anti-development. It’s to steer us away from bad development.” 保東北,不是反發展,而是要扭轉惡劣的發展方向  (inmedia)
[9] Hard-selling the NE Plan, Paul Chan Stores Land for Personal Gain 硬銷東北 陳茂波囤地自肥 (Apple Daily)
[10] “10 reasons for asking the government to withdraw the NE New Territories Development Plan” : 要求政府立即撤回新界東北發展計劃的十個理由 (inmedia)
[11] ibid
[12] “‘Double South Plan” to ease conflict over the NE New Territories Development Plan”:「雙南方案」緩解新界東北衝突 (inmedia.hk)
[13] 破解陳茂波——新界東北「愚人包」 (inmedia.hk)
[14] 抗議東北前期工程撥款 市民手寫5萬「反對」 (The House News)
[15] History of the Legislature (Legco webpage)
[16] Protestors storm Legco over North-eastern New Territory Plan (SCMP)
[17] Chaos as initial funding for new towns in New Territories approved by Legco panel (SCMP)
[18] ibid.

photo credit: Rebeka Tam

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